The concept of “elevator pitch” is ill-defined. Strictly speaking, it’s supposed to be how you’d describe your company or product in no more time than the length of an elevator ride. But if you ever actually are in such a situation, you will likely tailor your pitch to the specific listener. Ergo, you shouldn’t have one standard elevator pitch. So I’ll talk about “self-introductions” instead. Whatever we call it, the challenge “How do we introduce and summarize our story in the shortest possible time, or in the fewest possible words?” is a Really Big Deal.
Self-introductions occur at several different lengths, including but not limited to:
- Short enough to fit in the first paragraph of a press release without obscuring the main point.
- Short enough to fit into an elevator ride — — or in the boilerplate at the end of a press release.
- The first few paragraphs of the About and/or Product sections of your website.
- The beginning of a typical slide-aided presentation.
Usually, it makes sense to view the shorter ones as being abbreviations of the longer, more complete forms.
Your short summaries are necessarily incomplete, and even a bit inaccurate, for nothing concise is ever precise. Even so, there are a few questions you should almost always anticipate and answer — for if you don’t address them, then the rest of the conversation can’t really happen. The Big Three questions are:
- What do you offer? If somebody doesn’t know what you’re talking about, then there’s no conversation to be had.
- Why should somebody care? If there’s no reason to care … then there’s no reason to care.
- Why should I believe you might be better than the alternatives? If there’s no reason to believe you, then there’s no reason to listen.
The template I usually recommend for self-introductions is:
- The world has changed.
- This sets up everything else you’ll say …
- … but it doesn’t persuade on its own, so you should get through it very quickly.
- Usually, it would insult your listeners’ knowledge to “educate” them as to how the world has changed; …
- .. instead, you should briefly indicate which well-known changes are relevant to understanding your story.
- Ideally, the change is more specific than “Big Data … Internet of Things … interactive speeds … competitive necessity … profit”.
- There’s a big new problem or need, which we address. This is crucial.
- It starts the “What do we offer?” discussion.
- It answers “Why should somebody care?”
- It also starts the “We’re better” part of the story.
- Popular problem types these days include chaos, confusion, and mess.
- Popular need types include:
- More personalized and targeted customer communication.
- Gaining control over chaos, confusion and mess.
- We make _____________ (“What we offer.”) I’ve written about this area quite a bit, for example in my posts on naming, positioning and messaging to multiple audiences.
- It does ____________ (“Why you should care.”) If your story is strong, this should have several parts.
- Our technological uniqueness is ___________ . (“Why you should believe us.”) This goes all the way back to my first post on the layered messaging model, in 2008. If you don’t say what’s unique about you, you sound like everybody else.
- Social proof that we’re the right folks to do this includes_________ . (The other part of “Why you should believe us.”)
- Social proof can be customers, investors, or just people’s resumes.
- This part doesn’t have to go at the end of the pitch, and in an “elevator conversation” or presentation it probably wouldn’t. But wherever it goes, it’s somewhat outside the rest of the logical flow.
The closest I’ve come to posting about this template in the past was perhaps when I wrote about how to start a presentation. I recommend that post as a companion to this one.
Some of the classical stumbling blocks in all this are addressed in other posts, e.g. the previously cited on naming and multiple audiences. So let’s finish by tackling one I haven’t emphasized before, namely the tension between messaging for senior/strategic-level and more junior/tactical-level IT.
From the standpoint of a prospect, you likely want your product to both:
- Be worth a lot of money. This is best achieved by having a “big picture”, “strategic” story, of the kind that interests CIOs.
- Have enthusiastic and convincing internal advocates. This is best achieved by offering concrete, hard-to-deny benefits in specific use cases.
Let’s reframe that challenge a bit by noting:
- You’re probably anyway following a land-and-expand sales strategy. Most vendors of “horizontal” or “platform” technology have been, for decades.
- Your self-introduction (especially to prospects) needs to be good at teeing up the “land” part.
- It should also be useful (especially when introducing you to possible investors, employees or senior IT executives) in teeing up the “expand”.
The obvious approach is to have your “land” story be an obvious subset of your “land and expand” one. Revisiting the template, I’d say:
- The world has changed is mainly about the broader story.
- The big new problem or need is really big. Even particular examples are rather big. This includes the example(s) you’re addressing with your initial offerings.
- You make something with a category name that reflects your broader vision.
- It does specific things that are useful right now. Later it will do much more.
- Your technological uniqueness supports the entire story.
- Your social proof can usually be spun to support all levels of your story alike.